by Bill Quigley
01 December 2010
(Photo: New Media Days/Peter Erichsen)
Information is the currency of democracy.
the US government, through Presidents Bush and Obama, has increasingly told
the US public that "state secrets" will not be shared with citizens.
Candidate Obama pledged to reduce the use of
state secrets, but President
Bush tradition. The courts, Congress
and international allies have gone meekly along with the escalating secrecy
demands of the US Executive.
By labeling tens of millions of documents secret, the US government has
created a huge vacuum of information.
But information is the lifeblood of democracy. Information about government
contributes to a healthy democracy. Transparency and accountability are
essential elements of good government.
"a lack of government transparency and
accountability undermines democracy and gives rise to cynicism and
mistrust," according to a 2008 Harris survey commissioned by the
Association of Government Accountants.
Into the secrecy vacuum stepped Private
Bradley Manning, who, according to the Associated Press, was able to
"Pentagon security systems using little more
than a Lady Gaga CD and a portable computer memory stick."
Manning apparently sent the information to
Wikileaks - a nonprofit media organization that specializes in
publishing leaked information.
Wikileaks in turn shared the documents to other
media around the world, including The New York Times, and published much of
the documents' contents on its website.
Despite criminal investigations by the U.S. and other governments, it is not
clear that media organizations like Wikileaks can be prosecuted in the U.S.,
in light of the First Amendment.
Recall that the First Amendment says:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or
abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the
people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a
redress of grievances."
Outraged politicians are claiming that the
release of government information is the criminal equivalent of terrorism
and puts innocent people's lives 'at risk.'
Many of those same politicians authorized the
modern equivalent of carpet bombing of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, the
sacrifice of thousands of lives of soldiers and civilians and drone assaults
on civilian areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Their anger at a
document dump, no matter how extensive, is more than a little suspect.
Everyone, including Wikileaks and the other media reporting on what the
documents reveal, hopes that no lives will be lost because of this flood of
So far, it appears those hopes have been met:
McClatchy Newspapers reported November 28,
"US officials conceded that they have no
evidence to date that the [prior] release of documents led to
The U.S. has been going in the wrong
direction for years by classifying millions of documents as
Wikileaks and other media that report these
so-called secrets will embarrass people, yes. Wikileaks and other media will
make leaders uncomfortable, yes. But embarrassment and discomfort are small
prices to pay for a healthier democracy.
Wikileaks has the potential to make transparency and accountability more
robust in the U.S.
That is good for democracy...
WikiLeaks Releases State Department Cables
by Nancy A. Youssef
27 November 2010
The New York Times, The Guardian and
Der Spiegel have published stories this afternoon revealing
details of the State Department cables.
U.S. diplomats and officials said they're
bracing Sunday for at least three newspapers and WikiLeaks to publish
hundreds of thousands classified State Department cables that could
drastically alter U.S. relations with top allies and reveal embarrassing
secrets about U.S. foreign policy.
U.S. diplomats frantically have been reaching out to their counterparts
around the world as intelligence officials pleaded with WikiLeaks and the
newspapers, including The New York Times, the Guardian in London and Der
Spiegel, a German newsweekly, to not publish information that could endanger
lives and U.S. policy.
Some of the documents are expected to reveal
details about how some U.S. diplomats feel about top foreign leaders.
While this is the third time this year that WikiLeaks has released a large
batch of documents related to U.S. foreign policy, officials told McClatchy
that Sunday's expected release will be far more damaging than the first two
The first batch dealt with Afghanistan and the second with Iraq. Both
releases largely gave details about what many thought the U.S. military was
doing in those wars. This batch however, is expected to include never
released private cables between diplomats.
Publicly, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley warned that
releasing the documents could put "lives and interests at risk." But
privately, administration officials are far more concerned about what they
contain and implications of releasing them.
NBC News reported Friday that some of the documents would reveal damaging
details about U.S. efforts to renegotiate the START nuclear arms treaty with
Russia and U.S. anti-terrorism efforts in Yemen.
Speculation is rampant in Washington about what's in the documents.
Germany's Der Spiegel briefly published a story on its website Saturday
saying that the documents include 251,287 cables and 8,000 diplomatic
directives, most of which date after 2004. About 9,000 documents are from
the first two months of this year, the newspaper said.
About 6 percent of the documents were classified as secret, the newspaper
said before taking down its story. The majority was unclassified, the
newspaper said, but all were intended to remain confidential.
The newspaper said it would release all the documents at 4:30 p.m. EST.
WikiLeaks and the newspapers are expected to release the documents and their
findings at the same time. However, the release time has changed several
times over the past few days.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reached out Friday to leaders in
Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, France and
Afghanistan, Crowley said via Twitter. Diplomats throughout the State
Department have spent days reaching out and warning allies of what's coming.
Newspapers in Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, India, Pakistan, Israel and
Belgium, among others, said they expect the leaked documents to include
details about U.S. relations with their countries.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told CNN
in an interview to be broadcast Sunday that: "I would hope that those who
are responsible for this would, at some point in time, think about the
responsibility that they have for lives that they're exposing."
Although WikiLeaks hasn't said how it obtained the documents, U.S. officials
think that Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, while a 22-year-old
intelligence office stationed in Iraq, downloaded thousands of documents, at
times pretending he was listening to music by Lady Gaga.
Manning and other soldiers had access to the documents as part of an effort
by the military to get as much information as possible to soldiers on the
battlefield about their communities so that they had the best intelligence
Manning has been charged with illegally downloading thousands of classified
documents and is being held in a military jail.